Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

27 June, 2007

Books that have influenced me
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:27 AM

Rich Bryant started a meme, and has tagged me. Damn him! Er, I mean, hooray for including me! ;)

This time around: books that have changed your life. Man, no easy answers here for me.

I read a lot of books when I was young, but few of them really made an impact. Even now I try to read a bit every day, but it’s hard to say how many have really changed my life without a long, hard look back. Rarely do you put down a book and have a radically different view of the universe. Most of the time you read the right book at the right time and it clicks with how your world view is changing.

So, I’m scaling back just a bit and picking some of the most influential books I’ve read. Without further ado, here they are:

  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. If you haven’t read this book and you love fantasy, stop right now and go read it. It’s not terribly long, but it’s extremely good. I read the book in high school, and it was one of the first books where I really got the metaphors in the book without having a teacher explain everything in detail. Peter Beagle is exceptional at writing stories where he gives you just enough to really let your imagination run free. The Last Unicorn has a very serious place in my heart as one of the most influential books. I recently read the sequel “Two Hearts” in Peter’s recent book, The Line Between and loved it. I’m not afraid to admit: it made me cry a bit; it was wonderful to see old friends come back in print like that. (If you have read the original, go read the story using the link above. Keep the tissues handy.)
  • The Thomas Covenant Series by Stephen R. Donaldson. I’d say Tolkien, but that’s a bit trite. (Plus, Joe Ludwig already posted that one.) Yeah, I’m cheating a bit since this is a series, but a really good one. Although some people consider these books to be derivative, I think these books were exceptional in their own right. Having an anti-hero visit a fantasy land and how that impacts the world. No happy young teenagers here, only a bitter, sick man. Some people can’t get past a brief and upsetting rape scene early in the first book, but getting past that and you start to see a living world and how actions have consequences. These books offered a fully realized world with living people and interesting issues to consider beyond the rather pastoral presentation of some fantasy worlds. It’s a wonderful setting that would make a fascinating online game world if licensed games are your thing.
  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. When I worked with Randy Farmer, this was one of a stack of books he handed me about online game and social development. I was a bit confused… until I read the book. Even though the book is arguably about understanding comics, it really talks about the nature of visual art and the creative process. Games are largely defined by the visual aspect, so there are plenty of lessons in the book for game developers. The sequel to the book, Reinventing Comics is good, but focuses a lot more on comics; it also contains a great quote I use when talking about Legitimacy. I recently got Making Comics and hope that is as packed with useful information. (One of the other books in the stack, True Names by Vernor Vinge is also a classic that’s worth reading. Not quite as influential, but mind-boggling how accurate Vinge was in predicting aspects of virtual worlds that many years ago.)
  • Werewolf: the Apocalypse (Revised Edition) by White Wolf. Some of you know I’m a huge paper gamer. I started with AD&D like most people (started a bit of 1st edition, I own more 2nd edition books than is healthy, have played some 3/3.5 edition), but it was the other game we played that really captured my imagination. Werewolf was a game that oozed with gothy style. In the game, Werewolves are essentially supernatural eco-terrorists; it’s about as fun and insane as it sounds. It was a bit more rough-and-tumble than White Wolf’s previous offering, Vampire. Some of my fondest role-playing moments are of how our pack interacted given the continous strife built-in between characters. The pre-Apocalypse setting had a lot of really great setting and conflict in the game. The real beauty was that you could play the game how you wanted: it could be a real role-playing challenge, a knock-down fight, or a silly diversion depending on what people wanted. This game really showed me the power of tabletop gaming and how an interesting setting opens up a lot of role-playing opportunities. (I haven’t been quite so fond of the latest edition of the game, however.)
  • The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney. I’m an introvert, as I’ve written before. It’s one thing to say the word, but another to really understand what it means. This book explains why introverts are the way they are. It also talks about what introvert strengths are; it’s useful for extroverts to read in order to understand how to work best with introverts, too. It’s a superb book all around, and it gave me a lot of those “oh, that’s why I’m like that!” moments. A highly recommended book for anyone that has to deal with people.

Anyway, I’m still wary about passing along memes, so I’ll just put an open invitation here. Feel free to post your own list and track back here. Or, just post a comment if you have a book to mention. No criticizing my list, though. :P


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7 Comments »

  1. Not my fault, Brian. It’s the wife’s meme, not mine.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 27 June, 2007 @ 6:31 AM

  2. Have added some of those to my now, impossibly too long to read, reading list. Here’s some of mine…

    Lord of The Flies by William Golding. We read this at school, with the teacher ironically saying, “some books are so good that they change you.” LotF does that to some people. It was the first time that I read a book and I kept seeing metaphor everywhere. Not only that but it makes you think about how you have reached where you are. Whether you would still be you if you lost everything. Plot Summary: a bunch of young boys get stranded on an island alone, and try to build a society.

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead a play by Tom Stoppard. There’s a whole ‘have you ever wondered what it would be like to be dead in a box’ scene that is really funny, but at the same time it’s dark enough to get you thinking. It points out that sometimes the way you imagine things to be, aren’t what they actually will be like, that you might need to think a little bit harder. Sort of prepares you to laugh at the world, even when your frustrated or angry or there’s an impending doom heading your way. Plot Summary: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two characters from Hamlet, most of the play focuses on their musings and adventures.

    Comment by Jpoku — 27 June, 2007 @ 7:17 AM

  3. Nice inclusion of the Werewolf book, most people would completely shy away from something like that being on a list like this. I’d definitely put the Mage: The Ascension book on my list, as well as the Digital Web 2.0 book and many of the supplementals for Mage, because I really enjoyed the setting but moreso the ideas and thought provoking content.

    I’m certainly going to find a copy of Understanding Comics now, thanks!

    Comment by Bartoneus — 27 June, 2007 @ 7:31 AM

  4. Oh and I concur that the latest settings of White Wolf’s games have all been sub-par compared to the older ones.

    Comment by Bartoneus — 27 June, 2007 @ 7:34 AM

  5. Rich Bryant wrote:
    Not my fault, Brian. It’s the wife’s heme, not mine.

    Yes, but you tagged me, not her. I’m still blaming you. ;)

    Jpoku wrote:
    Lord of The Flies by William Golding.

    A great book. I actually didn’t read this until a few years ago, as I had never read it in school. I do need to read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, though. So, consider the adding of a book to an impossibly long reading list reciprocated. ;P

    Bartoneus wrote:
    Nice inclusion of the Werewolf book, most people would completely shy away from something like that being on a list like this.

    I am a game developer, so shying away from this is useless. :) I edited the description above to describe what the setting is about more.

    Mage: The Ascension

    Yeah, that’s really good. The problem is that it’s so hard to play and run, really, especially after playing Werewolf for a while. Mages are essentially frail humans with the ability to manipulate reality, but they get smacked around for doing so. It didn’t have the wonderful flexibility that Werewolf did for us: you pretty much had to role-play all the time. But, it is a really interesting setting.

    Oh and I concur that the latest settings of White Wolf’s games have all been sub-par compared to the older ones.

    I like character creation a lot better in the new system: building a mortal then adding a supernatural template is pretty cool. But, the mechanics and setting are lame. I hate the fixed difficulty number idea. And it’s sad to see Werewolves go from super eco-terrorists to spirit beat cops, essentially. I agree that the old meta-plot was a bit annoying, but we were able to ignore that for the most part in our games. They really took the lively spirit out of the Werewolf game in the latest edition.

    Anyway, interesting comments. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 27 June, 2007 @ 2:56 PM

  6. LOTF is an amazing book.. I think the deepest thing about it (and I didn’t really realize it until I analyzed it) is how the concepts (such as Ralph representing reason and justice and Jack man’s carnal side) inter relate in events. Ie characters that symbolize a concept will interact with other characters that symbolize other concepts.. the concepts react in a symbolic dynamic that relates back to life as different scenarios are laid out.. The book is level upon level of symbolism very deep.

    I suggest “The Secret Sharer” by Joesph Conrad. (he also wrote the heart of darkness) It’s a short story but to understand it in it’s complexity it takes several readings. It’s about a sea captain finding himself on a ship as the captain on a psychological journey.. the different characters embody different parts of himself.

    Comment by Nostalgia Fan — 28 June, 2007 @ 11:15 AM

  7. >Anyway, I’m still wary about passing along memes

    Heh heh.

    Richard

    Comment by Richard Bartle — 28 June, 2007 @ 12:26 PM

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